The online program is currently offered onboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas and Celebrity's Zenith (the Miami-based ships were chosen for the test because they were geographically closest to Royal Caribbean's Guest Port Services staffers in case of problems). Passengers can fill out personal and immigration information via each cruise line's Web site, acknowledge agreement with cruise ticket contract terms, and even set up credit cards for incidentals onboard. At the pier, folks provide their identification and printouts -- complete with barcodes -- which are scanned into a computer. Their SeaPass card is immediately proffered.
While many cruise lines offer some of these options, none, according to Royal Caribbean's Juan Trescastro, offer the full service as of yet. "Ships are just getting bigger and bigger," he says, "and the window to process guests stays the same. We're trying to expedite the process on the pier."
Trescastro makes a particularly sound point when he notes that "guests don't buy 'check-in' they buy the cruise. We want to have a fast, friendly and really forgettable service..."
Trescastro notes that in the first two weeks of the test, roughly 30 to 35 percent of passengers tried out the new system. As a result, check-in wait times, which at peak times can average 15 to 20 minutes, instead lasted about 3 to 3.5 minutes.
He notes that peak times -- during which 80 percent of passengers register -- generally takes place between noon and 2:30 p.m. (boarding times usually range from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). The "longest wait we had was five to six minutes in the queue," he says.
Passengers who file their registration information in advance have up until the last business day prior to sailing in which to do so.
Following this laboratory effort, Royal Caribbean will likely begin to roll out the program in early July with Majesty, Explorer, Adventure, Sovereign, Mariner and Empress of the Seas.
Celebrity will begin expanding the program to some of its ships in mid-to-end of July with Infinity and Summit. Ships sailing in Europe -- Galaxy and Millennium in particular -- should get the option in August with Constellation joining the ranks in September.
This is only the beginning for Trescastro's team, for whom smoothing out the check-in process is a major goal. The next challenge? A full registration process that spits out the SeaPass card so that passengers can bypass the check-in counter altogether and just pass through security.